Saturday, December 26, 2009

Boxing Day Brunch Bake

Queen Victoria must have loved Christmas to have declared the following day as yet another holiday. Boxing Day, celebrated on The Feast of St Stephen, is an English tradition -- the one day of the year when household help was given a bonus and a full day off as a reward for providing good service throughout the year.

For upper class Victorian families it meant the kitchen help would prepare foods in advance that the mistress of the house could manage without much fuss. For modern Brits, the day of goodwill has evolved into a banker's holiday encouraging the search for post-Christmas shopping bargains. Either way what's needed is a good breakfast, easy to prepare and this amazing brunch treat can be refrigerated up to twenty-four hours before baking.

FRENCH TOAST BRUNCH BAKE
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1/8 cup orange favored liqueur
1 tablespoon maple syrup
8 slices Portugese sweet bread, approx. 3/4 inch thick
2 cups half anf half
3 large eggs, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

Lightly grease bottom and sides of a 3 quart baking pan, oval or rectangular. In a medium saucepan, mix brown sugar, butter, liqueur, and maple syrup. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a boil. Lower heat to medium and cook uncovered for one minute. Pour into greased pan. Set bread slices on top of the brown sugar mixture.

In a medium bowl beat eggs, half and half, vanilla, salt, and nutmeg. Pour evenly over bread slices, using a wooden spoon to press bread gently as the bread soaks up the liquid. Cover and chill for at least one hour or up to 24 hours before baking at 350 degrees F. Bake uncovered for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted into the midde of the pan comes out clean. The top should be golden brown and will pouf up a bit during baking. Allow to set 10-15 minutes before serving -- the puffiness will relax as the casserole sets. Makes 8 servings.

Add a side dollop of creme fraiche, a few of your favorite berries and enjoy.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

All Dressed Up for Christmas Breakfast

What we Americans call oatmeal is known as porridge in the rest of the English speaking world. In Germany it's haferbrei, havregrot in Norway, owsiaka in Poland and puder in Estonia. But nowhere is oatmeal mush more beloved than in Scotland, where the art of porridge making is a competition.

The Golden Spurtle Award is bestowed to the world's most talented porridge maker at the annual World Porridge Making Championship in Carrbridge, Inverness-shire. The event is held in October and the winner recieves a gold-colored spurtle as a trophy -- the spurtle is a flat wooden spatula-type utensil traditionally used to stir the porridge during cooking. I use a standard issue wooden spoon.

Wonder what they would say about my special Christmas porridge recipe?

OATMEAL BRULEE
2 cups cooked oatmeal
1 cup of your favorite berries (fresh or frozen are best but canned is okay)
2 tablespoons white sugar

Make 2 cups of your favorite oatmeal. I like to use Quaker's quick cooking kind, it takes 1 3/4 cup boiling water, a dash of salt and 1 cup of uncooked oats. Stir in the salt and oats into the boiling water. Remove from heat and let mixture sit one minute to thicken.

Butter up four 6 ounce ramekins, warm one cup of berries in the microwave for one minute on medium high. Add 1/4 cup of the warm berries to the bottom of each ramekin. Top with 1/2 cup of hot cooked oats. Level off the oatmeal to a smooth surface with a butter knife. Sprinkle 1 or 2 teaspoons of white sugar on top. Using a chef's torch, carmelize the sugar to a crunchy golden brown as you would with creme brulee. If you haven't got a chef's torch, place sugared oatmeal under the broiler for a miute or two until the sugar melts to the golden color. Let stand a minute to allow the sugar to harden. Serves four.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Peppermint Snow, Please

Facebook friends from Washington, DC to New York City posted more snow warnings than The Weather Channel all last night. Today, my pals in eastern Massachusetts report near white out conditions.

Here in western Massachusetts, it fizzled to a dusting at best. So I made up a batch of brownie cookie bites topped with peppermint snow and we had our own blizzard right in our kitchen. The best part? Peppermint snow is a pleasure to shovel ... into our mouths. But this IS New England -- who knows what tomorrow will bring!

MINT COCOA BLIZZARDS
1/2 cup butter or margarine
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup cocoa
1 large egg
2/3 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chocolate chunks
1/8 cup of peppermint snow (crush 4 or 5 mini candy canes into a coarse powder)

Sift dry ingredients in a medium bowl and set aside. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter and brown sugar until fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, beat in on medium. Add dry pre-sifted ingredients to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk until blended well. Fold in chocolate chunks. Drop by rounded tablespoons on ungreased cookie sheet. Sprinkle with peppermint snow and bake 8-12 minutes at 375°F; do not over bake. Makes two dozen 2 inch cookies.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Joy of Holiday Cookies

Nothing sweetens the season like holiday cookies! The name comes from the Dutch koejke which translates to "little cake" -- the perfect single serving treat. Cookies have been part of cooking history for more than a thousand years and nearly every culture has a bite sized sweet that qualifies as a cookie.

Every year I try to come up with a new twist on an old favorite to celebrate the season for my annual cookie swap. These tasty morsels are my version of rugelach, a traditional Jewish pastry filled with nuts, raisins or apricots, cinnamon and sugar wrapped in a flaky crust. A few good friends sharing a bottle of bubbly then going home with the bounty of a platter full of homemade cookies and the recipes. Lots of fun and yumminess, too!

RUGELACH
Dough
2 cups all-purpose flour
Dash of salt
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup unsalted butter
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese
1/3 cup plain or lemon flavored yogurt

Filling
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries (chopped coarsely or cut into halves)
1 tablespoon white sugar

Cut cold butter or margarine and cream cheese into bits. In food processor pulse flour, salt, butter or margarine, white sugar, cream cheese and yogurt until dough forms a loosely pliable ball. Add one drop of water at a time if needed. Shape mixture into four equal dough balls ... wrap each ball in plastic wrap (I prefer zip loc bags) and chill a minimum of 2 hours on up to 4 days.

When you are ready to bake your cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Roll each dough ball into an 8 inch square keeping the other dough balls chilled until ready to roll them.

Combine sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and dried cranberries. Sprinkle rolled dough with brown sugar/nut mixture. Press lightly into dough. Roll the dough round into a cylinder. Using a chef's knife or other very sharp blade, cut the cylinder on an angle into 8 pieces. Set each piece flat on one side so that one spiral side is flat on an ungreased cookie sheet and one spiral side is facing up. The positionong allows for the cookie bottom to carmelize into a crunchy, tasty and almost candylike base. Sprinkle the tops lightly with white sugar.

Bake in the center rack of your oven 20-22 minutes until lightly golden. Cool on wire racks. Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies. Store in airtight containers...these cookies also freeze well.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Caribou Meatballs

It’s snowy and cold here in New England -- a good day to defrost ground caribou and simmer up a big saucepot full of spicy meatballs. If you aren’t lucky enough to have a friend who hunts, you can substitute the caribou with sweet Italian sausage meat. Just remove the casings and crumble into your meatball mixture.

These meatballs are delicious cooked in any good sauce, even a jarred sauce from your grocer’s shelf, though I recommend homemade bubbled on your stove all morning. Double the recipe and freeze a quart full of the sauce and meatballs for another day. Stop in your favorite local bake shop for fresh rolls and enjoy a yummy grinder or have an old-fashioned meatball with pasta dinner and a tossed salad. Pass the grated Romano cheese, please!

BIG GAME MEATBALLS

1 pound ground turkey
1/2 pound ground caribou meat
1/3 cup Italian bread crumbs
1 large egg
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese
3 tablespoons hot tap water
1/8 teaspoon finely ground black pepper

Combine breadcrumbs, egg and water in large bowl, let sit about 5 minutes. Add rest of ingredients, mix until well blended. Shape into meatballs, about 1 to 1 ½ inches in diameter.

Drop the meatballs in a large saucepan with your favorite pasta sauce, homemade or purchased. Cover and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. Occasionally stir with a wooden spoon to keep meatballs from sticking. Makes 18 to 24 medium-sized meatballs and serves 6.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

And a Partridge in a Pear Tree

Okay, so I haven't got a partridge. And while Farmer Paul does grow pears out in our lovely backyard garden, the tree went bare weeks ago.

But I found these lovely little Seckel pears at a favorite farm market and just had to have them. Cored, poached in a sweet delicate sauce and served cold -- yummy!

PEAR DREAMS
1 cup cranberry juice cocktail
½ cup water
¼ cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon strips lemon zest, finely grated
1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
¼ cup cranberry liqueur

4 Seckel pears, on the larger side

With a small knife, remove as much of the core as possible from the bottom of each pear while leaving the fruit whole. Add the pears to the saucepan. Simmer, covered, until fork-tender, 20-25 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a bowl. Bring the poaching liquid to a boil; boil until reduced to 2 c., about 10 minutes. Pour the syrup through a sieve over the pears. Cover and chill, turning the pears occasionally, 6 hours or overnight.

Serve the pears with the syrup and a cinnamon stick garnish. These pears make an especially nice light dessert with a small scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. Mmmm...Mmmm...good!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

An American Bird Meets French Cuisine

If you love lemon flavor and believe in the curative power of some foods, then this Turkey Francaise is just what the doctor ordered. Using turkey Americanizes the classic French cuisine deliciously. The best part is that if you prefer to make it Italian, substitute the mushrooms with capers and you have Turkey Piccata.

Always a big decision for me which country’s lemon poultry recipe to favor since my ethnic heritage combines both French (my dad) and Italian (my mom) and my grandmothers on both sides were phenomenal and inspiring cooks; especially for a little girl who loved wearing her grannies’ aprons!

Ask half a dozen food historians where lemons originated from and you’ll likely get half a dozen different answers. The exact origins of the lemon remain vague, it is widely presumed that lemons were native to India and China where the tart juice was known for its medicinal properties and as an antiseptic. Lemons made their first appearance in the Arab world and the Mediterranean regions around the same time the pretty yellow fruit found its way to Europe via ancient Rome in the first century AD.

Lemon was introduced to the Americas in 1493 when Christopher Columbus brought lemon seeds to Hispaniola. Spanish conquest throughout the New World helped spread lemon seeds. It was mainly used as ornament and medicine. It wasn’t until the 1700s that lemons took off as a favored flavor for foods in America and became a popular cash crop in Florida and California. Today most Americans love lemon!

TURKEY FRANCAISE
1/2 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons white table wine
1-2 tablespoons lemon juice (to
taste)
4 turkey breast cutlets
3 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup sliced mushrooms (Piccata substitute is 1 tablespoon capers)
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)


Combine the broth, wine and lemon juice in a small bowl or large mixing cup. Set aside.

Rinse and dry the turkey breast cutlets. Using a kitchen mallet, pound the meat to about 1/4-inch in thickness. Dredge cutlets in flour, saving the excess flour. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the meat and saute until cooked through. Remove from the pan and place on a plate.

In the same pan used for the turkey, add the butter or margarine and the mushrooms. Saute 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining flour to the mushrooms and stir to coat. Cook for 1 minute. Add broth mixture to the mushrooms and stir constantly until the mixture thickens. Add chopped fresh parsley if desired.

Spoon the sauce over the cutlets and serve with wild rice pilaf and steamed broccoli. Decided to go Italian with a piccata? Place the cutlet and pour the sauce on top of cooked liguini noodles. Either way, the recipe makes 4 yummy portions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Died and Gone to Chocolate Heaven

Chocoholics rejoice! This one's for you ... a warm and satisying dessert. Chocolate is festive and if you're looking for a way to get into the holiday spirit, nothing beats warm chocolate soup.

Who can resist a Godiva boutique display? Or those Lindt bars on special? Everyone needs a chocolate snowman, don't they? Everything from chocolate tea bisquits to dipped dried fruits boxed and wrapped in gold and silver trimmed red velvet boxes -- a sprig of silk ivy points at you as if to say, "Just nevermind your old Aunt Alice, buy me for yourself!"

While you're at it, pick up a high cocoa content bar to make this really yummy soup. You may keel over in a chocolate coma but you and your holiday guests will lie unconscious with a smiling face. Guaranteed.

CHOCOLATE HEAVEN SOUP
Amaretto Crème
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup 1% milk
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur

Chocolate Soup

1 cup 1% milk
1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon white sugar
4 ounces 85% cocoa chocolate squares
Dash of salt
1 egg yolk
½ cup strawberries, sliced


For amaretto crème:
Combine cream and milk in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and whisk in yolk, cook about 10-15 minutes whisking often until smooth and slightly thickened. Remove from heat and whisk in liqueur. Cool in refrigerator.

For soup:
Combine milk, cream, chocolate, sugar, and salt in a medium size saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, whisking constantly. Reduce heat to low, whisk in yolk and cook, whisking often, until chocolate melts and mixture is smooth and slightly thickened, about 10-15 minutes.

Drop a few sliced strawberries at the bottom of a shallow wide rimmed bowl. Ladle scant ¼ cup of cooled amaretto crème over strawberries. Ladle ½ cup of warm soup over amaretto crème and top with strawberry slices. Drizzle a tablespoon more of the crème on top and serve. Makes 4 yummy portions.

Hint: You can make the soup and crème in advance. Reheat chocolate soup over LOW heat. Crème is added cold.